World Rally-Raid Championship

2024 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge: Laia Sanz a last-second challenger in Challenger

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Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Laia Sanz will be back in a Challenger car starting Monday when she kicks off the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, piloting the #311 Taurus T3 Max for Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team with Maurizio Gerini as co-driver.

Sanz usually races in the top Ultimate category, having made the switch to four-wheeled rally from bikes at the 2022 Dakar Rally. At the 2024 edition in January, her third attempt in a car, she finished fifteenth in the Astara 02 Concept (a variant of the Century CR6) for Astara Team with a best daily performance of fourteenth in Stage #4.

She began dabbling in Light Prototypes at the Baja España Aragón last July. Racing a Taurus T3 fielded by Wevers Sport, who co-operates the Taurus project alongside MCE-5 Development, she placed eighth after suffering a gearbox failure twenty kilometres into the final stage.

“It was such a shame because we had very good pace and we adapted very quickly to a car I had never driven before and a class (T3) that was new for me,” Sanz commented after that race. “The best thing was seeing we’re competitive.”

For Abu Dhabi, she will partner up with Cristina Gutiérrez at the Junior Team, formerly an American-only programme that has since become Red Bull’s Taurus division. A fellow Spaniard, Gutiérrez won the Dakar’s Challenger class ahead of Red Bull and Taurus colleague Mitch Guthrie, who is skipping the ADDC; Tauruses dominated the Dakar by winning nine of twelve stages.

Besides Sanz and Gutiérrez, other Taurus cars at the ADDC include Dania Akeel, Nicolás Cavigliasso, Marcelo Gastaldi, and Puck Klaassen. Gunter Hinkelmann was originally scheduled to race the #311 for Taurus partner BBR Motorsport.

Sanz’s presence also maintains the ADDC’s count for female drivers at five alongside Gutiérrez, Challenger classmate Annett Quandt, SSV competitor Rebecca Busi, and Aliyyah Koloc in Ultimate. Sara Price was entered in SSV before backing out.

The entry comes a week after Sanz won the second race in the Extreme E season opener in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which also hosts the Dakar. She and new team-mate Fraser McConnell race for ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team, which is owned by Dakar overall winner Carlos Sainz.

The ADDC begins with the Prologue stage on Monday.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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